Capuchin Easter Reflection

(taken from our Triduum Retreat, directed by our Provincial Minister John Celichowski)

First read John 21:1-19

During his years as the head of what was then the Soviet Union,
Nikita Krushchev denounced a number of the policies and atrocities of
his predecessor, Jozef Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of tens
of millions of his countrymen. Once, while he was criticizing Stalin,
Krushchev was interrupted by a heckler who cried out, “You were one
of Stalin’s colleagues! Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Who said that?” Krushchev roared in response. The room was
absolutely still. Nobody moved a muscle. After a long moment of tense
silence, Krushchev said quietly, “Now you know why.”

Fear is a powerful motivator in our lives. It drives us to do some
things: we cram for a test because we fear failure; we turn the car
around and return home one last time to make sure we didn’t leave the
oven or iron on; and we build our arsenals and armies to protect us from
attacks or threats to what some call “our way of life.”

But just as it compels us to do some things, fear also keeps us from
doing others: we fail to apologize for fear of appearing weak or getting
into another fight; we don’t ask some one out for a date or for their hand
in marriage because we fear rejection; we stay in the comfort zones of
our current lives and ministries rather than risk being or doing something
different because we fear failure. As we saw in the example of Premier
Krushchev, fear can also prevent us from stepping forward and speaking
out when we should.

What are you afraid of right now? Which fears are driving you,
and which ones are holding you back?

Jesus knew fear. He confronted it very powerfully in the Garden
of Gethsemane the night before his death. Most of the gospels describe
it as “anguish,” a feeling so powerful that one of them describes him
almost literally sweating blood. Throughout that night and just before
his arrest, it drove him back and forth from the place where he was
praying to his disciples, only to find them asleep and overwhelmed.

The disciples had to face their own fears; and “when the chips
were down,” they failed. All of them, save the beloved disciple, fled and
went into hiding.

None of them, however, failed as spectacularly as Peter, who
denied as many as three times that he even knew Jesus—the same Jesus
to whom he had vowed only hours earlier that he was prepared to die.
He couldn’t even admit that he knew him! Confronted at once with his
own cowardice and failure, Peter could only run away and weep bitterly,
entombed in his fears.

It must have been emotionally exhausting and perhaps became
even more so when Peter and the other disciples—driven behind locked
doors out of fear that those who killed the Lord were coming after
them—were confronted by Jesus, wishing them peace and showing them
his wounds but also challenging their lack of belief.

In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus came once again before
Peter and the other disciples. The resurrection stories remind us of
something we easily forget: Jesus reveals himself to us, personally, over
and over again. He shows himself to us as communities at least as often
as individuals; and he often does so in the midst of our ordinary lives. In
this particular passage, it was in the midst of Peter and the disciples
engaged in their regular jobs, doing something they’d done thousands of
times before.

Like Peter and the other disciples, however, we so often fail to
recognize the Lord’s presence or action…until something unusual or
miraculous happens. Perhaps we’re still afraid, in the midst of the
increasing secularism and skepticism of our age, to acknowledge him.
After all, to do so has consequences. For Peter, the biggest consequence
seemed to be being reminded of his failure.

For the church today, perhaps the biggest fear is not so much that
Jesus is no longer present and working but that he is no longer doing so
with us. If the gospel is so powerful, how is it that fewer people seem to
be following it?

I sometimes wonder whether its this fear, along with the stated
concerns about Catholic identity, that are causing such a stir at Notre
Dame about President Obama’s commencement address and honorary
degree. Our Catholic teaching on abortion and the sacredness and
dignity of human life—not only at conception and in the womb but also
in the refugee camp, the AIDS hospice, the pre-school classroom, and
the prison—is pretty clear but even many of our Catholic elected
officials do not seem compelled to follow it, much less our non-Catholic
President. Indeed, more often than not our politicians on both sides of
the aisle seem far more persuaded by their respective party platforms.

Yet even in the face of this, the Lord’s voice to Peter and the other
disciples in the upper room and behind the locked doors, echoes to us:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John
20:21). He has sent us; and, if we look at it honestly and recall the rest
of the New Testament and the first several centuries of the church’s
history, in a world far less hostile to the gospel.

Symbolized in the disciples miraculous catch of 153 fish (said by
some ancient scholars to mark the number of known species and thus the
universality of the Church—our mission remains to gather all together,
and Jesus continues to feed us in the midst of it. Despite our failures,
Jesus invites us to make the risk of love and to feed and tend those
whom he has placed in our care; and he asks that we surrender our own
wills and lives to that mission…just as he did.

Like he did with Peter, he never admonishes us, “…and don’t
screw up again.” Instead he simply asks, “Do you love me?” and urges
us to feed and tend to those in need, who belong to him, not us.

In December 1914, a terrible fire swept through the laboratories of
Thomas Edison in West Orange, NJ destroying over $2 million in
equipment and much of the great inventor’s life’s work. His son Charles
later reflected on the experience of witnessing his father’s white hair
blowing in the cold winter air and his face glowing as he gazed upon the
inferno. “My heart ached for him,” Charles said, “He was no longer
young, and everything was being destroyed.”

Rather than being overwhelmed by the tragedy, however, Edison
told his son to call his mother. “Find her,” the inventor said, “Bring her
here. She’ll never see anything like this again as long as she lives.”

The following morning found the 67 year-old Edison walking
among the charred remains of a lifetime of work, hopes, and dreams.
Instead of mourning what had been lost he remarked, “There is great
value in disaster. All of our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can
start anew.”

Happy Easter!

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